January 15, 2007

More on Global Warming (Thanks to EG's comment)

Do people need basic "lessons in what global warming is and why it happens? Do people understand what is happening on a fundamental level, the ABC chemistry and physics of it? Do you want to? If you don't, and do, let me know, and I will go through it here in as easy and straight-forward a fashion as possible. If everyone understands it, great. But I've found that often people talk about things that in truth they don't actually get, not really. Just leave an anonymous comment if you want to, or email me, if you don't want to leave your name. Something, so I know the information is wanted.

I realize I am cheating in letting someone else do the writing in the next two articles, but they did such a good job that I figure, instead of me paraphrasing them, why not just let them tell the tale.

The important thing to realize about coral is that it is the basis for much of the life in the sea, and if it goes, a GREAT deal of sea-life may go with it, plankton to very large fish like sharks which depend on coral-dependent smaller fish for their food. When so large a part of the food chain is lost, the fishing industry dies, which means not only huge unemployment, but enormous numbers of coastal peoples become dependent on inland crops for food.

Similarly, if sea levels rise 20-200 feet as variously predicted (if Antarctica's ice cap slides into the sea, which I believe is bound to happen, it will be 200+ feet) the corals' algae will not get enough sun and will die, leading to bleaching, which will kill the coral polyp, ie the coral animal itself. With the same consequences, except that the coastal population will also crowd inland to escape the rising fishless waters, putting increasing pressure on croplands to provide both living space and food for more people than ever.

Oh, the doomsday scenario goes on and on...and it just keeps getting worse. For those of you who believe in god, what does your belief tell you to think about all this? Do you simply believe that it won't happen? That god will rescue you or all of us? That He or She or whoever won't allow it to happen? Or can it happen and there still be a god, and if so, how do you explain our ending as a species? Where is god in all that? What do you do with such a calamitous situation? I know, I know, we had free will and screwed up...So we're all going to die now? How does god figure in all that? (If you tell me, no, a few really good people will be saved, you can go to hell...because you no doubt are one of those few, right?) But if you say that god would never allow such a calamity to happen, doesn't that mean that you can sit back on your duff and do nothing because it isn't necessary, god will take care of it, even if it is man-caused and OUR problem? Will you take that gamble and do nothing but wait?


These two are from the Environmental Defense site


Warmer waters, more acidic oceans and stronger storms are taking their combined toll on coral reefs. "Coral reefs may prove to be the first ecological victims of unchecked global warming," says Environmental Defense scientist Rod Fujita.

Loss of coral reefs would translate into huge economic losses in coastal regions dependent on reefs—they provide about $375 billion each year in food and tourism income. ( U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy)

Severe damage to reefs is also an ecological catastrophe. Coral reefs are sometimes called "rain forests of the ocean" because they are home to a rich diversity of marine life such as reef fish, turtles, sharks, lobsters, anemones and sponges.
Warmer water linked to "bleaching," death

Corals get both their food and their spectacular color from tiny algae called zooxanthellae that live in them. Corals are very sensitive to temperature and thrive within a narrow range of heat and cold. An increase of just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the typical maximum summer temperature can cause corals to expel their algae, or "bleach." After prolonged bleaching, they often die.

A massive bleaching of corals occurred during one of the warmest 12-month periods on record, in 1997 and 1998. About 16 percent of the world's reefs suffered severe damage, and thousand-year-old corals perished. Continued increases in ocean temperature could make mass bleachings an annual event. Environmental Defense scientist Doug Rader says that "within a century, very large portions of coral reefs could be gone."

Double damage: Oceans getting more acidic

Coral reefs face another threat related to global warming: carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. Carbon dioxide is the main heat-trapping gas that causes global warming, but that's not the only damage it does. A report by the U.K.'s Royal Society found that the increased levels of CO2 in the ocean are making it more acidic.

When CO2 dissolves in ocean waters, it produces carbonic acid, which corrodes the limestone structures of coral reefs and seashells. In acidic water, "there is a greater tendency for seashells to dissolve, like putting them in vinegar, but not quite as dramatic," says Environmental Defense climate scientist Dr. James Wang.

"The world's seas are naturally alkaline," adds Fujita, "and many of these marine creatures that have been around for eons will not survive in an acid sea."

As waters become more acidic, coral reefs and other marine ecosystems could suffer. The Royal Society's panel of scientists report that acidification will hurt tropical and subtropical reefs the most, but cold-water corals are also in danger. Since acidification is "irreversible in our lifetimes," the authors say, "the only practical step is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide as quickly as possible to minimize large-scale, long-term harm to the world's oceans and marine ecosystems."

Guard reefs from stress, and they are resilient

Rader has spent years diving in the Caribbean and seen first-hand the decimation to reefs. Disease has nearly destroyed elkhorn and staghorn reefs throughout the region, he says. "Add to that more frequent bleaching events and an abundance of CO2 in the water," says Radar. "It seems hard to believe that it is happening—and happening on our watch."

But Fujita offers a sliver of hope. "Corals are sensitive but also very resilient—if conditions are right. If we can reduce some of the other direct stresses from human activities on coral reefs, like pollution from diffuse sources, that may also enable reefs to cope better with threats like climate change."

Creating more protected areas for coral reefs may help them better withstand the rigors of too-warm water and be less vulnerable to extinction. Kelp forests seem to be able to cope with warmer water better in marine reserves, explains Fujita. But even so, cautions Fujita, "the number of corals that can adapt to or withstand such dramatic, rapid changes may be just a tiny fraction."


The energy we use at home accounts for about a fifth of U.S. global warming pollution. That means making smart choices at home matters.

Heating and cooling

This is a top home energy user, with the average household producing about four tons of heat-trapping pollution a year. It is heavily influenced by weather. For example, a relatively cold 1996 led to an increase in heat-trapping emissions compared to the previous year. But the next year, a warmer winter helped emissions dip bit. Warmer summers increase greenhouse gas pollution, too, from heavy air conditioning use. Despite the relative warm or coolness of the season, the U.S. emits a harmful amount of global warming pollution.

Even as the weather varies, your choices can help spew less global warming pollution.

* In summer, keep shades drawn to keep the cool in.
* In winter, open shades to let the sunlight to help warm rooms.
* In winter, keep your thermostat cooler at night or when the house is empty.
* Install a programmable thermostat to heat and cool rooms only when necessary.
* Plant trees around your house to cut cooling costs in summer.
* Insulate your walls and ceilings.
* Install a light-colored or reflective roof.


After heating, refrigerators and freezers are generally the home's next two big energy eaters. Other appliances follow closely. Together, these items account for nearly eight tons of heat-trapping emissions per household per year.


Upgrade to Energy Star products. Not all appliances are equal. Whether you're in the market for a new fridge, toaster or air conditioner, look for Energy Star choices, which offer the best energy savings.

Size counts. When in the market for an appliance, make sure you buy what suits your needs. Items too large or too small waste electricity and your money.

Unplug. Your electric meter is often adding up kilowatt hours when you don’t think you’re using an appliance. Unplug toasters and cell phone and other chargers when they’re not in use. Don't use air fresheners that have to be plugged in.

Use power strips. Cable boxes and video game boxes, and to a lesser extent TVs and VCRs, use almost as much energy when they're off as when they're on. Make it easy to turn them all the way off—plug them into a power strip and turn off the whole strip.


Lighting accounts for about 21 percent of commercial energy consumption and about 12 percent of home energy consumption. In terms of heat-trapping pollution, that means the lights in the average household produce just over a ton of carbon dioxide each year. Here are a few steps to lower those numbers.


Use energy-efficient lights. Changing just one 75-watt bulb to a compact fluorescent light cuts roughly 1,300 pounds of global warming pollution. They also last up to 15 times as long and save you money. (Learn how to pick the best bulbs.)

Turn off lights. A good chunk of lighting expenses is from rooms that stay unnecessarily lit.

Use natural light. Open shades and use sunlight to help light rooms.

Install motion-sensors so that lights automatically turn on when someone is in the room and turn off when empty.

Green Energy

Does your electric company sell energy from renewable sources, like wind and solar? More than forty states in the U.S. now offer cleaner energy. Find out more about home energy choices.
Other energy efficient choices for your home

* Use the energy saver cycle on your dishwasher and only run it when full.
* Wash clothes in warm or cold water, not hot.
* Turn down your water heater to 120°Fahrenheit.
* Clean or replace the air filter on your air conditioner.
* Install low-flow shower heads to use less hot water.
* Caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows.
* Ask your utility company for a free home energy audit.

Posted by pamwagg at January 15, 2007 11:16 PM



Very nice entries, with solid information and practical advice. Here's a question that has been puzzling a few of my co-workers and I recently: for example, "turning off unused lights is one way to reduce heat-trapping emissions and thus have a positive effect on global warming" is often repeated. And I agree. But... exactly how does this work scientifically? When one light is turned off, does that mean that a power plant worker shovels one less piece of coal into the furnace? AC can't be stored up and saved, and it's being generated constantly. My question is, what direct effect does individual consumption or reduction have on energy production at the power plant?

Posted by: Mark at January 24, 2007 05:48 PM

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